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Telemedicine Use Rising Rapidly among Medicare Beneficiaries

In one of the first published studies to measure exactly how often telemedicine is utilized, Harvard Medical School researchers discovered that telemedicine use among Medicare patients grew roughly 28 percent each year between 2004 and 2013. This rise is even more impressive in light of Medicare’s restrictive reimbursement policy: Medicare only pays for telemedicine visits if the patient lives in a rural area and travels to a clinic for the telemedicine visit.

In 2013, 107,000 visits were provided to over 40,000 rural beneficiaries, with a mean of 2.6 visits per person. Despite the rapid increase in visits, this represents less than 1 percent of all rural Medicare patients. Disabled patients with mental illness, who were sicker and poorer than the average Medicare beneficiary, were the most likely to use telemedicine services; the majority of these visits were regarding mental health conditions.

We applaud the adoption of telemedicine for mental health and other services among Medicare beneficiaries; however, telemedicine doesn’t have to be limited to rural patients. Any patient can take advantage of telemedicine’s convenience, and any health care provider can appreciate the increased compliance that results from such convenience.

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